Hurricanes might help Coral Reefs

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Corals stressed by ocean warming may benefit from a hurricane – as long as it doesn’t hit them directly.

Coral bleaching has been a major problem in recent years with the loss of algae or the reduction of a pigment in living corals that happens when corals are stressed by warm water.

Derek P. Manzello of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a team of experts have just reported that hurricanes mix both the warm surface water and the colder deep water which effectively lowers the surface temperatures as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

The researchers studied damaged reefs in Florida and the Virgin Islands that suffered in the bleaching event of 2005. They report the findings in Tuesday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Bleaching was similar in both regions in September, but following the passage of Hurricane Rita, the Florida corals began to recover and recovery accelerated after Hurricane Wilma passed by in October.

However, bleaching continued in the Virgin Island corals, which had not been approached by the storms.

Whilst a direct hit by a hurricane can damage corals, the passage of a storm within 250 miles or so can mix and cool the water enough to benefit corals, the experts discovered

The research was funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, the Project Aware Foundation, the U.S. Virgin Islands department of natural resources, the National Center for Coral Reef Research and NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science.